Free language learning resources | Mandarin

This post is going to be a slight departure from my regular blogging content. I am fulfilling a request (albeit tardily) from Iwona who is a prolific Tweeter of useful and fascinating PLN-related things.

Learning Chinese

I started learning Mandarin in 2012. I took a 30 hour weekend beginner’s instructor-led course with Inchin Closer. The teacher was a native speaker from Chongqing. When the course got over, I didn’t sign up for the next level and after a gap of a few months, I enrolled in the level 1 Mandarin course at Somaiya College’s Centre of Buddhist Studies.  The teacher was an Indian lecturer who had a PhD from China. Although both the courses were meant for beginners, they were extremely different. The first was ostensibly focused on functional vocabulary that would be useful for a businessperson travelling to China and the second emphasised learning radicals and characters. I was not very happy with both courses pedagogically but I’d been using a variety of self-access resources all along to supplement my learning.

All of the following resources are free except a few which may have some premium content, and the books at the very end.


Busuu: Although significant parts of Busuu are paid, its Chinese course is still worth checking out for its peer-feedback feature. You record or write something and the output gets sent out to Chinese speakers on the platform who’ll give you feedback on it. In return, you provide feedback to learners of languages that you have declared proficiency in. Busuu can also be accessed through an app.

Confucius Institute Online: Confucius Institute is the PRC’s version of the British Council. Their site has lots of free courses.

Video-based courses

FluentU: A lot of the stuff on this engaging platform is paid but it’s a really neat idea. Each lesson in FluentU takes a YouTube clip and breaks it down (dare I say lexically) and helps you notice and internalize chunks (although I doubt they’ve read Michael Lewis).

BBC Learning Chinese: The Real Chinese section is free video-based course. The rest of the site contains other kinds of resources. The content is a bit shallow and basic but engaging nonetheless.


Chinese Grammar Wiki: Sequenced using the CEFR, this site’s a lifesaver when it comes to trying to get your head around the vague bits and bobs of Chinese grammar.


Chinese level: An online tool that helps you evaluate how much of a Chinese newspaper you can read.


Memrise: Uses a sort of flashcard mnemonic format with spaced repetition to help you learn vocabulary. However, I find the visual ‘mems’ far more useful in learning Chinese characters. In fact, a lot of my current skill with recognizing close to 800 characters comes from becoming addicted (it’s gamified) to planting and watering my memrise sets. It’s also available as an app for both Apple and Android.

Anki: A flashcard application which uses spaced repetition. You’ll have to download this one and set it up, and then download sets of flashcards.

Chineasy: A fun way to get started with Chinese characters. The only problem is that they’re traditional (what they use in Hong Kong & Taiwan), not simplified (what they use on the mainland).


Line dict: A fairly decent dictionary which always provides several examples of usage.

MDBG: Don’t be put off by the stodgy interface. This is actually a really rich resource … worth exploring.


Hacking Chinese: This is a brilliant site with excellent tips to help you make and sustain progress on Chinese language learning journey (or ordeal :-)) Sign up for the insightful newsletter and explore all the resources available on the site.

Fluent in 3 months: Whether you believe in Benny or not, his posts are really motivating when you are down in the dumps about not making any progress with Chinese.

Online Pinyin editor: Allows you to type stuff like “wǒ yě hěn hǎo”.

Google Pinyin input for PCs: Install this package and switch easily between English and Chinese while typing in any application.

HelloTalk: Practice your Chinese on this free mobile app by ‘bartering’ with native speakers who want to try out their English on you; supports both voice and text in a format that replicates Whatsapp.


  • Hanyu Jiaocheng series from Beijing Daxue
  • Integrated Chinese series by Cheng & Tsui
  • Fun with Chinese Characters by Tan Huay Peng
  • Experiencing Chinese series from Higher Education Press
  • New Practical Chinese Reader series by Liu Xun (This textbook series along with accompanying audio and video is available for free on the Chinese Culture Centre site – not sure why they would offer it for free but appears to be legit)

Image attribution: Flickr | The writing on the wall by Brian Yap (葉) | CC by 2.0 

2 thoughts on “Free language learning resources | Mandarin

  1. Hi Adi, my official Mandarin Learning Challenge is complete. I quite enjoyed it so I am going to continue learning the language. Thank you so much for taking the time to list the resources. Your post helped me immensely as I didn’t know 90% of the sites you mentioned. Thanks again for your help!


    • You’re welcome Iwona. I was on my way home from China when you posted this message. I have actually decided to stop learning Chinese – might write to you some time about the events and experiences that led me to this decision. All the best with your Mandarin journey!

      Liked by 1 person

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